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Kids: What Foods Make Up a Healthy Diet?

Vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits are the optimal foods for both children and adults. Why focus on these four food groups? Because they are cholesterol–free, high in fiber, low in fat, and rich in health–promoting substances found only in plants. They are also rich in healthy carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals–the nutrients you and your family need. Foods from the plant kingdom are also excellent sources of protein and calcium–two nutrients once thought to be mainly in meat and dairy products.


Children who consume diets built from these foods tend to have a dramatically lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, and stroke later in life. Overweight and other health problems can also be brought under control by choosing healthy foods.

Whole Grains

Build each of your child’s meals around a hearty grain dish–such as rice, oats, corn, barley, hot or cold cereals, bread, crackers, or pasta. Grains are rich in fiber and provide energy, as well as protein, B vitamins, and zinc.


Vegetables are packed with vitamin C, beta–carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fiber, and other nutrients. Each day, serve your child at least one dark green vegetable such as broccoli, kale, spinach, and collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, bok choy, or Swiss chard. And offer plenty of other vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, or tomatoes.

Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and Non–Dairy Milks

Legumes, nuts, seeds, and non–dairy milks are all good sources of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. Legumes are great sources of fiber.


Legumes include beans, such as pinto, navy, kidney, and garbanzo; lentils; black–eyed or split peas; and products made from soybeans, such as tofu, veggie burgers, soy “hot dogs” or sandwich slices, and tempeh, a hearty fermented soy product that can be used in place of meat in many recipes.


Non–dairy milks include breast milk and soy formula for infants and toddlers, and rice–, soy–, and other vegetable–based milks for children at least 1 year of age. Choose fortified soymilk, such as Westsoy Plus, Enriched VitaSoy, or Edensoy, whenever possible, or use other fortified vegetable–based milks.


Nuts include whole or chopped nuts, nut butters, whole seeds, and seed butters. One to two tablespoons of nuts or nut butters may be included in a healthy diet, but they are optional.


Fruits provide the energy active children need and are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and beta–carotene. Be sure to include at least one serving each day of fruits that are high in vitamin C–citrus fruits, melons, and strawberries are all good choices. Fruits include all fruits, fresh or frozen, raw or cooked, and fruit juices.

Sticking With It

The ease with which kids transition into and stick with this healthy dietary pattern can be positively influenced by a variety of factors. Family support is critical: Parents can provide healthy foods, set a good example, and talk to their children about nutrition.


If your children have convictions about the welfare of animals or reducing the impact on the environment and/or have a clear understanding of the health value of good eating habits, they will be more likely to make the switch easily and be able to maintain this diet, not only while away from home, but throughout their lives.


When children eat healthful foods and stay physically active, good health will follow in a pleasurable and sustainable way.